Adrift in the moral maze

I've developed a habit in recent senior school assemblies of making regular reference to "PlayStation and computer games". The pupils recognise the context and know that it is a kind of shorthand for "what's wrong with the young people of today".

I tend to employ it in two main areas. One concerns the modern predilection for teenagers to stay indoors, fixated by couch-bound activities, leading, we are told, to the current problems with obesity among the population. I'm aware that I need to be careful in employing this tactic because, although I was heavily involved in sport as a youngster, I do recall that I didn't spend every evening roaming the countryside and taking part in vigorous physical activity.

Indeed, I have to admit to doing a lot of reading, regular flicking of Subbuteo model footballers and a fairly unhealthy but typically boyish obsession with the minutiae of pirate radio ships and their illegal and faintly exciting presence off the coast. I suppose the difference lay in there being a balance between the sedentary and the active.

The other area where I raise the issue with our seniors is perhaps of even more concern. Teachers can't fail to notice that the "virtual gaming community" offers a particular comfort to those of our pupils who may find relationships difficult in the "real" world. Again, it amounts to the need for balance.

Without doubt, there are benefits from such a hobby, in terms of skills, self-esteem and as a basis for friendships. It is the extreme examples that cause concern.

The debate has long been waged over whether exposure to violent films or games has a deleterious effect on young people and their perception of how things are, or should be, in the "real" world. It seems to me that the effect of hobbies and pastimes on young people, or indeed on any of us, is in direct relation to their context - that question of "balance" again.

The responsibility of parents and, by extension, schools is to provide a context where values are clear and the child is given a consistent message and a secure setting for his or her development.

In a month where our media have featured two high-profile cases of murder involving school pupils, not to mention a raft of alleged scandals involving public figures, it is not surprising that there is a need in our students for direction and a moral framework.

Video games may play their part in the confusion, but we should not forget the images of war and destruction that feature nightly on our news programmes, and the behaviour of those in our own communities.

For all those on the couch, exercising the mind should be as important as exercising the body.

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